Administrative-Security Prisons

The Bureau of Prisons categorizes federal prisons with special missions as administrative-security institutions. These facilities are equipped to house inmates of any security level. Federal prisons that house pretrial detainees, such as Metropolitan Correctional Centers (MCCs) and Metropolitan Detention Centers (MDCs), are classified as administrative security, as are Federal Medical Centers (FMCs), Federal Transfer Centers (FTCs), and the Administrative Maximum (ADX), the Bureau’s supermax, located in Florence, Colorado.

In terms of violence, data from 2017 puts administrative-security prisons between low- and medium-security institutions. Because of the variety of missions that administrative-security prisons serve, however, violence levels in these institutions tend to vary significantly. Federal Medical Centers, for example, see very little violence. The ADX, on the other hand, houses inmates that the Bureau has judged to be extremely dangerous, violent, and virtually unmanageable.

Designation to an administrative-security prison is based almost entirely on the prison’s mission, and not the inmate’s security points or custody classification. For example, an inmate with serious medical needs may be designated to an administrative-security
FMC regardless of his security point total, though the inmate’s security level may influence the particular FMC to which he or she is designated.

Administrative Security Federal Prisons

According to the FBOP, administrative facilities “[h]ave special missions, such as detaining pre-trial offenders; treating inmates with serious or chronic medical problems; or containing extremely dangerous, violent, or escape-prone inmates. They include Metropolitan Correctional Centers (MCCs), Metropolitan Detention Centers (MDCs), Federal Detention Centers (FDCs), Federal Medical Centers (FMCs), the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners (MCFP), the Federal Transfer Center (FTC), and the Administrative-Maximum USP (ADX).

In the ADX, the “Alcatraz of the Rockies,” the inmates are those who are considered to have “absolutely no concern for human life,” according to former FBOP director Norman Carlson. This is the highest-security prison in the U.S., and it was designed to be escape-proof. The ADX holds 500 prisoners in eight units. Inmates include Ted Kaczynski, Atlanta Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph, 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols, and a host of others who are locked into their cells most of the day. Prisoners who were originally assigned to other facilities but who became serious behavioral or flight risks are also at the ADX.

A 2014 Amnesty International Report counts over forty states with supermax facilities housing at least 25,000 inmates. ADX, the only federally operated supermax, locks down its inmates for twenty- to twenty-four hours a day. Individuals can go several days without speaking to anyone. Most cells have compound doors consisting of an inner and outer door, which enhances the sense of isolation.

Some cells do have radios and black-and-white televisions. The shows consist of religious, educational, and general interest programs. Inmates at some point might be able to work at a prison job like cleaning showers. Otherwise, inmates must be escorted by guards, and wear leg irons, handcuffs, and waist chains whenever they are moved. Recreation, which lasts one hour, takes place in an outdoor pen slightly larger than the cell. Only the sky is visible 2

Since the different administrative facilities hold such diverse missions, they cannot be designated as easy, hard, or indifferent. Depending on the mission of the institution, the institutional culture may vary.

List of Administrative Security Federal Prisons

  • MDC Brooklyn (NY)**
  • FMC Butner (NC)
  • FMC Carswell (TX)*
  • MCC Chicago (IL)**
  • FMC Devens (MA)
  • ADX Florence (CO)
  • FMC Fort Worth (TX)
  • MDC Guaynabo (PR)**
  • FDC Honolulu (HI)**
  • FDC Houston (TX)**
  • FMC Lexington (KY)
  • MDC Los Angeles (CA)**
  • FDC Miami (FL)**
  • MCC New York (NY)**
  • FTC Oklahoma City (OK)**
  • FDC Philadelphia (PA)**
  • DC Reeves (TX)
  • FMC Rochester (MN)
  • MCC San Diego (CA)**
  • FDC SeaTac (WA)**
  • USMCFP Springfield (MO)

*Prisons housing only female inmates.
**Facilities housing both male and female inmates.